Jason Momoa: Once was warrior

17:00, May 29 2013
Jason Momoa Drogo
BIG-HEARTED BARBARIAN: Jason Momoa as Dothraki warrior leader Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, based on the series of fantasy novels. ‘‘When I read the book I was completely floored,’’ he says

It's every woman's fantasy. All 1.95 metres of Jason Momoa is sitting across the breakfast table, his dark eyes flashing as he reaches for his juice. The sheets in the next room are rumpled, his hair a tousled mess.

At least, that's what I imagine as he talks to him, over the phone, from his suite in Auckland's Pullman Hotel.

This job has its perks but, this time, meeting Game of Thrones stud Jason Momoa, aka Khal Drogo, in the flesh isn't one of them.

"They're really good," Momoa's voice comes down the line, describing his bacon and eggs.

Oh, come on. Until a few years ago, Momoa was either known as the hot guy from Baywatch: Hawaii - a show he was recruited for straight from the clothing shop he worked in - or the popular character "Ronon Dex" in the television series Stargate.

The latter series gathered him a cult following, and sci-fi fans will be lining up to ask him about his four-year stint as a technologically advanced alien when he appears at the Armageddon expo in Wellington this weekend.


But his star factor undoubtedly increased after his appearance as the leader of the Dothraki warrior tribe, Khal Drogo, for nine episodes of hit HBO series Game of Thrones.

The fantasy series has attracted such hype that in 2012, according to The Huffington Post, 146 newborn girls in the United States were named "Khaleesi", the Dothraki term for the wife of a khal or ruler, and the title adopted in the series by Daenerys Targaryen.

Somewhat bizarrely, Momoa, 33, won the part of warrior Khal Drogo by performing the Maori haka in his audition.

Footage of Momoa's ad-libbed version of Ka Mate can be found on YouTube. His pronunciation isn't great and the actions appear to be loosely based on the All Blacks version, but you can't fault his enthusiasm.

(He also nailed the part of Conan the Barbarian in the remake of that movie at the same time, as the same casting director was in the room.)

"I've been fascinated with Maori culture since I was a kid," Momoa, who was born in Hawaii and raised in America, says in a lazy drawl.

"We come from the same [Polynesian] culture. When I found out more about the Maori culture I fell in love with it, and with the people too. There's a lot of pride here which I love, being Hawaiian and being part of the US I love but our Hawaiian culture perishes a little bit, and it's really supported out here. There are few indigenous cultures that have done as well as the Maori."

Momoa chose the haka for his audition because he thought it was a powerful representation of a fearsome warrior, though he says he did feel slightly uncomfortable. "It's very, very powerful, and I wanted to capture that. I just thought it was apt for the role because it's beautiful and scary."

Landing the role of Drogo was a coup as he'd been trying to shake off the Baywatch: Hawaii surfer-dude stereotype ever since he left the show in 2001.

"I don't think there's been anything like it [Game of Thrones] on TV. When I read the book I was completely floored, just the fact of being on one of the most amazing shows in the world. I'll never be able to play a role quite like that again."

The warrior-king character doesn't speak English, with Momoa having to learn the new "language" of Dothraki - constructed by a linguist specifically for the show.

"It was very hard ... I was like, I can barely speak American [laughs]. I mean, I didn't speak any foreign language, it was a great honour and a challenge," Momoa says.

Momoa's Drogo is initially a brute, taking his new bride Daenerys Targaryen - played by Emilia Clarke - to bed by force. Daenerys eventually falls in love with Drogo, and a large amount of the pair's screen time thereafter is taken up by copulation.

Was all the candle-lit tent action awkward?

"It's always awkward. Emilia Clarke is someone I'm very close to, like a sister, and I love her very much. There's a couple of things you shouldn't do to other humans and you shouldn't say to other humans that Khal Drogo does. I'd have to be Drogo and then I'd kiss her and cuddle her and go back to being Jason and saying I'm sorry. There's no real formula for it."


Armageddon, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, June 1-3

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